June 28, 1999 was the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. Thirty years ago, working class queers of colour, drag queens and butch dykes rebelled against a routine cop raid on a dingy bar. Their anger sparked Gay Liberation — a visionary movement, which demanded the total overhaul of a grossly unequal society based on private property, monogamy, compulsory heterosexuality and rigid gender roles.
We’ve come a long way. This year, both the New South Wales and Queensland governments have enacted legislation recognising same-sex couples. After years of grassroots campaigning, a long overdue bill before federal Parliament seeks to amend the federal Superannuation Act to give gays and lesbians the same superannuation benefits as heterosexuals on the death of a partner. Now Deputy Opposition Leader, John Thwaites, who represents the Victorian constituency with the largest number of queer voters, has introduced a private members’s bill to amend 18 state laws, which discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. But the pragmatic Thwaites has his limits, and he capitulated to conservatives by excluding equal access to adoption and IVF from this bill. Despite these shortcomings, both the federal and the Victorian Bill deserve speedy passage. They will enhance democratic rights and, by expanding the legal definition of relationships, chip away at the economic privileges given to the patriarchal nuclear family.
Riot on! Laws that offer equal rights and provide benefits and protections to same-sex couples mark major changes in social attitudes. But they leave queers who reject traditional models of domestic coupledom out in the cold. And let’s not forget those with no job, no superannuation and no property to transfer to their partner, tax free! When Gay Liberation burst onto the scene, activists flaunted their difference, challenged all forms of oppression and aspired to replace the nuclear family, not imitate it. The goal was a world where human relationships evolve naturally, without being distorted by economic coercion. Long live Stonewall!